‘Hybrid working’… it’s the new buzz word on everyone’s lips as businesses start to re-open after lockdown, but the concept of hybrid working pre-dates the pandemic. It’s essentially a form of flexible working where staff spend part of their working time in the workplace, and the remainder of their time working remotely (usually from home). Your business may well have had these kinds of flexible working arrangements in place with some members of staff prior to the pandemic.
So why are we talking about hybrid working now?
A new study from ACAS on flexible working arrangements found that 55% of employers are anticipating an increase in staff working under hybrid working arrangements as they re-open after lockdown, with 49% expecting an increase in staff working from home or remotely full-time. So if you haven’t been faced with any requests for hybrid working yet, it’s likely that you will be in the coming months. Your business might even be considering introducing a hybrid working policy to apply across your workforce as you change your working model going forwards.
Whatever your business’s approach will be, this quick guide answers some FAQs.
How do I introduce a hybrid working model across my business?
If you’re thinking about introducing a hybrid working model across your business, it’s a good idea to consult with your staff first. This will help you to take onboard their views, increasing trust and morale and ultimately smoothing any transition. It’s particularly important to consult if your new model will result in changes being required to your staff members’ contracts (eg to their place or hours of work) as you may need their consent first.
See further guidance below about things to consider when introducing a hybrid working model across your business, including putting in place a hybrid working policy.
How should I deal with ad hoc requests for hybrid working?
If you’re not introducing a business-wide hybrid working policy, you may still receive individual requests from staff. You should deal with these ad hoc requests in the same way as you would deal with other requests for flexible working. This means you’ll need to consider first whether it amounts to a formal, statutory request for flexible working. You should also follow any procedures set out in relevant HR policies (eg your flexible working policy and/or your hybrid working policy, if you have them).
Formal flexible working requests
If the request is a formal request for flexible working by an eligible employee (ie one with at least 26 weeks’ of continuous service with you, who hasn’t made a previous request in the past 12 months), you’ll need to follow the usual strict process for dealing with such requests. For example, you must reach a decision within three months and you can only reject the request on one of eight grounds (eg the change would have a detrimental impact on your ability to meet customer demand). See our Q&A on Flexible working requests for further guidance about dealing with formal, statutory requests.
Informal requests for flexible working
If it’s simply an informal request for flexible working then you do not need to follow any strict process (unless you have set out a specific procedure in a relevant HR policy, such as a hybrid working policy if you have one), but you must make sure you do not discriminate when you’re dealing with requests. For example, if you apply a blanket policy of refusing to allow hybrid working for staff members in particular roles, you may indirectly discriminate against a female staff member who has requested hybrid working due to childcare or caring responsibilities, or a disabled member of staff whose request amounts to a request for reasonable adjustments.
Do I need a hybrid working policy?
Whether your business has introduced a hybrid working model or agrees to hybrid working on an ad hoc basis, there’s no legal requirement for you to have a hybrid working policy, however, it is good practice. It can help you to streamline your approach to hybrid working by setting out clearly and transparently how it will work in practice and what your expectations are of your staff. For example, you can set out the following information:
- Who’s eligible for hybrid working;
- Whether staff need to make hybrid working requests and, if so, to whom;
- How your staff should split their time between working from home and working remotely;
- Where staff are permitted to work when they are working remotely; and
- Arrangements in relation to health and safety, data protection, information security, insurance, equipment and more.
If you introduce a hybrid working policy, make sure you keep it under regular review to ensure that it continues to work for your business and your staff.
Use our template to create your own, customised hybrid working policy, or create it as part of a full staff handbook.
Should I trial hybrid working first?
If you’ve received a request for hybrid working, or if you’re thinking about introducing it generally across your workforce, it’s a good idea to consider allowing it on a trial basis first. This way, you’ll be able to see how well it works in practice for both your business and your staff member, before you make any permanent changes and/or commitments.
Make sure you document the trial in writing so that you and your staff are clear about what the terms are, including what your review process will be and what criteria you will use to judge whether the arrangement works. Bear in mind that if your employee has made a formal flexible working request and you want to trial the arrangement first, you’ll need to agree with them an extension of the three month decision-making period.
Will I need to change my staff members’ employment contracts?
If you’ve trialled a hybrid working arrangement and you’ve decided it can go ahead on a permanent basis, you’ll need to consider whether you need to update your staff members’ employment contracts.
You should check your contracts to see what they say; for example their contract might be drafted in such a way that it covers the proposed working arrangement, or it may contain a flexibility clause allowing you to update their place of work on reasonable notice. If not, you’ll need to consult with your staff and get their consent to any changes. In practice, they’re likely to consent if they requested the change and/or it’s beneficial to them.
For further guidance about changing your staff members terms and conditions of employment, see Changing or adding to staff contracts.
What arrangements will I need to put in place for hybrid workers?
When staff are working remotely, you’ll need to put in place appropriate arrangements to accommodate this. For example, you will need to consider:
- How you’ll comply with your health and safety obligations, because you still have health and safety responsibilities towards remote workers;
- Whether your insurance will cover remote workers;
- How you’ll comply with your data protection obligations and ensure the security and confidentiality of your confidential information when staff are working outside your premises;
- Whether you’ll provide equipment;
- How you’ll effectively manage the performance of hybrid workers, ensuring they don’t miss out on opportunities and are treated fairly; and
- Whether you’ll provide hybrid workers with designated spaces in your workplace.
Finally, if you’re moving to a hybrid working model, this may have implications for your business premises; for instance, you might be considering downsizing or you may want to make alterations to accommodate hot desking by hybrid workers. Make sure you check the terms of your lease to see what it says before you make any decisions. For more information, see our guide on leaving or downsizing your business premises.
Before joining Sparqa Legal as a Senior Legal Editor in 2017, Frankie spent five years training and practising as a corporate disputes and investigations lawyer at leading international law firm Hogan Lovells. As legal insights lead, Frankie regularly contributes to Sparqa Legal’s blog, writing content across employment law, data protection, disputes and more.